Now You See Me, directed by Louis Letterier (The Transporter), and written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, is a competently executed and entertaining deception thriller with a headline all-star cast. Consistently intriguing and often spectacular and relying on a magician’s deft slight-of-hand, this preposterously elaborate caper perhaps doesn’t hold up particularly well on close scrutiny. But if you surrender yourself to being taken along for a ride and relish in being fooled then this should be quite enjoyable.
Four gifted independent magicians – Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) – are mysteriously brought together by an unknown mastermind, teaming up to become ‘The Four Horsemen’. For the grand finale of their first Las Vegas performance they live rob a Parisian bank. The sensational misdirect, with more promised to come in their future acts, leads to an FBI Agent, Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), leading a thorough investigation. He finds himself partnered with a rookie Interpol Agent (Melanie Laurent).
Finding themselves as pawns and suspects are an insurance magnate and the Horseman’s funding body, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ex-magician who makes a living revealing the secrets of circuit magicians. Rhodes finds himself repeatedly deceived by the cocky quartet, he become increasingly obsessed with apprehending the team and their leader.
There’s an engaging sense of style, which reminded me of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven at times which ensures that this is an entertaining watch. The photography – in particular some of the sweeping aerial shots around the stage – is often very impressive. The action sequences, including a tense pursuit through NYC, are also well staged. Letterier, responsible for the abominable Clash of the Titans, has a surprisingly assured grasp over the exciting action here. You have to pretty naïve not to expect a twist coming in a film that features magicians, but the film sets up a mantra – the closer you look the less you’ll see – that specifically applies, and does a pretty good job maintaining misdirection and keeping an audience guessing.
One of the film’s pleasures is the assembly of such a likable cast. On every level – from the charismatic newcomers like Fisher, Eisenberg and Franco, to the wily veteran presence of Harrelson, Caine and Freeman – this is an attractive cast. While the characters are quite thinly drawn, we learn very little about the four horsemen and Rhodes’ history is all-but ignored, the casting is certainly effective. Eisenberg is especially convincing as a fast-talking hotshot illusionist who we believe would be consistently the smartest man in the room.
In terms of cinematic escapism, there is little to criticize. The overly convoluted plot includes a few too many strands to muddle our perceptions, and the romance that brews between Ruffalo and Laurent feels like an afterthought that had no business at all. The central mystery is more than enough to keep an audience invested. How did the Horsemen rob the bank, what have they got planned next and who is pulling the strings? As we are sided with Rhodes during his investigation, fruitless in his attempts to apprehend, we are never sure what the Horsemen have next in store. As a result, the film is a little confused as to whose perspective to focus on. For a lengthy period the Horsemen are absent from the screen, which is a little suggestive.
There is a sense of aura about magic shows, and even though we know that what we are watching is reliant on misdirection, there is a sense of satisfaction that arises from being fooled. When the big reveal is made we kick ourselves for not figuring it out. You might catch Now You See Me in the act. You might not. I am not sure whether all of the chords are invisible here, so don’t think into it too much, but as far-fetched as this helter-skelter caper becomes it is nonetheless an entertaining way to spend a few hours.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.